Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2008

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Best Of :: Bars & Clubs

Best Country Nightclub
Handlebar-J

From the hundreds of cowboy hats adorning the walls to the sawdust on the floor, there's no place more "country" than Handlebar-J. This steakhouse/nightclub has been owned and operated by the Herndon family since 1975, and owner Gwen Herndon's sons, Ron and Ray, can often be found performing as the Herndon Brothers on stage.

Guests such as Starfire and Jessi Coulter pop in to perform every so often, too, and on the rare nights when there's not live music, Handlebar-J's jukebox selection of C&W classics keeps patrons two-steppin' and line dancing.

7116 E. Becker Lane, Scottsdale, 85254
MAP
480-948-0110
Best Place to Shoot Darts
Clicks Billiards

We've got a passion for anything old school. Vinyl's way better than MP3, Grandmaster Flash will always trump Jay-Z, and the original Nintendo is far more fun than the Xbox 360. And when it comes to the game of darts, we prefer old-fashioned boards made from sisal fibers to them new-fangled electronic Galaxy machines. Call us crazy, but we prefer it when our darts actually stay sunken into the target after we throw them, instead of falling to the ground (which usually happens with plastic-tipped darts and worn-out machines). It's just one of the reasons why we've dug aiming our steel-tipped darts at bull's-eyes available at Clicks. While most Valley bars and clubs feature an array of the aforementioned electronic dart units, this east Phoenix pool hall follows the less-is-more philosophy, with three bristle boards available. Another plus is the place's pub-like atmosphere, which is somewhat fitting, as the sport originated in Britain. There's also a gigantic big-screen sitting close by, just in case you wanna catch a D-Backs or Suns game while beating your buddies at a game of "cricket" or "round the clock." Don't get too distracted, however, as the owners would prefer it if you didn't miss and accidentally put someone's eye out.

3935 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 85018
MAP
602-220-0859
Best Arcade
Golfland SunSplash

Video games are an absolute religion for some people. Magazines like GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly, their bibles; digital heroes like Master Chief and Mario, their gods. And arcades like King Ben's Castle at Golfland SunSplash are virtual temples, where vidiots genuflect (so as to better insert tokens, natch) and become joystick Jesuits among the 200 different games available here. Even though home systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 dominate the gaming world, the arcade is still packed with teens and 20-somethings eager to show their stuff on such old-school units as Centipede or Street Fighter II, as well as rack up high scores on newer games like Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune and Aliens: Extermination. This palace of play also boasts numerous racing simulators, fighting titles, and beat-matching dance pad games (such as Dance Dance Revolution and its ilk). Plus, the snack bar offers pizza and other snacks for between-game cravings — but make sure to wipe your hands before heading back to the action.

155 W. Hampton Ave., Mesa, 85210
MAP
480-834-8319
Best Countercultural Carnival
Sadisco*

You won't find any death-defying rides, outrageous animals, or complicated midway games at a monthly Sadisco* affair. Just freaks . . . and plenty of them (like, enough to fill an insane asylum or a sideshow). Be they leather-clad rivetheads, mayhem-craving punks, or gloomy Goth types, the monthly dance parties put on by the debaucherous dance collective draws out nightcrawlers of every stripe interested in some countercultural fun. Each edition of Sadisco* (shorthand for "Sadistic Disco") goes down at one of several rotating Valley clubs and features a fantastically freaky theme, with décor, costumed revelers, and activities to match. J-Heads hosted a raucous edition of "Fight Club Sadisco" (where patrons engaged in fisticuffs, à la the Chuck Palahniuk novel); the now-defunct Shayna's in Scottsdale was once the site of "Sadisco in the Land of Mistreated Sex Toys" with dildo and blow-up doll decorations; and Homme Lounge gave up space for "Sadisco* Goes to Leary's * Town: The S*uicide Cool-A©id Test!" All of the bizarrely bacchanal action is backed by a hardcore soundtrack of industrial and EBM music courtesy of resident DJs Squalor, ///she///, 5arah, Blonde NOize, and $&M, as well as various bands. If you dare to sample the strangeness, bring some earplugs in addition to your pleather pants.

Best Musical Carousel
Celebrity Theatre

The musicians, singers, and comedians that hit the stage at Celebrity Theatre not only get to perform in the round but get to experience the rotating stage, which may be as unique an experience for them as it is for us. How do we know? Well, Celebrity stage newbies tend to remark on their rotation virginity, while returning artists often express their fondness for the ride. The circular motion is slow enough not to be jarring for performers and playfully pumps up the intimacy that Celebrity is known for. If all the world's a stage, it's nice to see a stage that mimics the world right back.

440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 85008-6205
MAP
602-267-0186
Best Place to Catch a House Show

Mill Avenue may be known as Tempe's main drag, but you'll find us off the beaten path, most weekends: There's a sleeping sonic giant just steps away from Mill known as Mitchell Park, an old-timey 'hood built between the '30s and '60s. Some of our town's best musical talent, such as Foot Ox, Bri White, James Fella, and the members of My Feral Kin, reside in the area loosely bounded by University Drive to the north, 13th Street to the south, Roosevelt Street to the east, and Hardy Drive to the west.

When the neighborhood's guitar-wielding and drum-whacking residents aren't playing at more traditional Tempe spots like Cartel Coffee Lab and Three Roots, some will open up their living rooms for open-to-the-public shows at places called The Manor and Bike Saviours Co-op. Thing is, these gigs aren't very well promoted, so be sure to troll MySpace for e-announcements or Eastside Records for paper fliers.

Best Place to Find a Rave

Old-school ravers around here love reminiscing about the good ol' days of the Valley's underground dance party scene. Back in the early- to mid-'90s, they ramble, Phoenix was rife with non-stop illegal and illicit all-night dance affairs, boasting big-time DJs, massive cuddle puddles, abundant X, and tons of "P.L.U.R." (as in, "peace, love, unity, and respect"). After waxing poetic, they usually start dissing on the rave scene, claiming it ain't as vibrant as those days of glory.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, bro, but the local scene is thriving quite well, as evidenced by the large number of raves being pimped on the Web site AzEDM (short for Arizona electronic dance music). Promoters and DJ collectives like ClixBagofTrix, Silent Unspoken, and Nightowl Entertainment have fliers posted for more than a dozen upcoming raves and parties spread out across P-town, whether it's some shindig in a vacant warehouse in south Phoenix or out in the desert somewhere. Locations are typically kept secret until the night of the affair (so as to keep the cops at bay), but bring some bail money as well as your glowsticks, in case things are compromised.

Best Hipster Dance Night
Shake! With William Fucking Reed

DJ William Fucking Reed has a knack for bringing sexy back while simultaneously bringing breaking national acts to the party. His weekly dance night, Shake!, has been going strong since 2005, thanks largely to the litany of luminaries Reed finds to spin tunes. Guest DJs have included JD Samson of Le Tigre, Marky Ramone, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols, Jimmy of Louis XIV, Sami Yaffa of New York Dolls, and Brace Paine of The Gossip. He's also managed to get celebs like Dave Navarro and Tommy Lee to come in for VIP treatment, and arranged for Shake! to be the official after-party for touring acts like The Kills and Editors.

In addition to Reed's own mash-up of electro/hyphy/punk, fellow resident DJs Funkfinger and Ashley Nicole provide plenty of bumping beats for booty shaking. With such high-profile guests and a music menu that includes the hottest new indie-dance rock, Shake! should continue to cause a stir for some time to come.

423 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 85257
MAP
480-947-3580
Best Place to Party on a Yacht Without Getting Seasick

Sail away to the calming sounds of Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, and more whenever your captain of smooth, DJ mig50, plays yacht-rock classics at the Ruby Room. The event emcee spins those heavy-on-the-cheese hits by Boz Scaggs, Hall & Oates, and the Doobie Brothers on good ol' fashioned vinyl. You may not actually be coasting on a boat in the water, but with $2.50 Sea Breeze cocktails all night long, you can definitely feel a little sway if you like. Just don't rock the quasi-boat.

Best Bull Ride

In the climax of the '80s flick Urban Cowboy, a duded-up John Travolta managed to hang onto a bucking mechanical bull for almost 30 seconds. Man, if only we coulda lasted that long. We were attempting to replicate the actor's feat on the faux toro at one of the Valley's two Saddle Ranch Chop Houses recently but came up a little short. Like, about 27 seconds short. Although both our pride and our rear ends were bruised, it was still major fun. Thankfully, we weren't the only ones getting bucked off the raging mechanical bull within moments (average ride time = six seconds) that night.

The ride's a popular attraction at both locations of the cowboy-themed restaurant and nightclub. Dozens of patrons line up around the ride's padded corral nightly to give it a go at $3 a pop, holding on with one hand as the ride's operator bucks them around for dear life. If they've got skills to survive, a weekly bull-riding competition on Monday nights offers a cash prize. But if they're washouts like us, souvenir pictures of the experience are available for only $8.99. It'll serve as a reminder of the ride, long after the bruises have faded.

4321 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 85251
MAP
480-429-2263
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9375 W. Coyotes Blvd., Glendale, 85305
MAP
623-889-7770
Best Dance Floor
Bar Smith's Rooftop

Bar Smith is an early adopter of great DJs, great dance floors, and an overall big-city vibe we love to see hitting our bit of Sand Land. The upstairs outdoor dance floor is our fave in this town. Sure, it might be toasty in the summer, but it's worth it for the view — high-rises lookin' you eye to eye, as cool graphics and film loops projected onto nearby structures take advantage of our building boom.

We're partial to the small dance floor, where dancers are squared off with the DJ. It's the way it should be — the relationship between DJ and dancer, facing forward, and following the heady rhythms en masse. Who needs dance floors filled with fish, or other weird distractions or eye candy confections? It's a dance floor, and we're here to dance. Last night a DJ saved your life? At Bar Smith, on the roof, it's possible.

130 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 85004
MAP
602-229-1265
Best Local Vaudeville Show

The day that the eggheads finally invent a time machine can't get here soon enough, because we've got some major plans for that wondrous doohickey. Besides heading back to eighth grade to confront the bully whose daily thrashings stunted our self-confidence to this day, we're warping back to the 1920s to witness a bona fide vaudeville show. We've seen only pictures of the ribald and raucous variety shows that were a mix of comedy, music, dancing, and oddly freakish behavior, so we'd love the experience of seeing performers like Stan Laurel or Ethel Barrymore in their prime.

And until the day we've got our own personal flux capacitors, our butts will be firmly planted in front of the stage at The Sets whenever the hilarious and hot Lucy Morals presents Romantasy Cabaret.

Every month during the summertime, Morals serves as barker and emcee for the vaudeville-like showcase, which features shenanigans of a sexy, surreal, and side-splitting nature. One eclectic edition (titled "Opulent Dreams") boasted the snake dancing of Mother Fakir, the hilarious acoustic parody songs of Tom Tuerff, the boffo burlesque of Dolly Diamonds, and other outrageousness.

The always-madcap Stephen Strange was also in attendance, wowing the crowd by setting off fireworks strapped to his stomach.

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Best Country Nightclub: Handlebar-J

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